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Three Categories for Thinking about IT

February 5, 2008
by Travis Gathright
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There are several ways to approach an analysis of information technology in an organization. The organizational ability to apply information technology to assist the business, the information technology in use, and the workings of the Management Information Systems (MIS) Department are distinct areas that can provide a useful categorization for the inter-related issues addressed in IT strategic planning.
Category one, organizational ability in applying information technology to assist the business, is the broadest category. To understand this issue, think: Chapter Seven, “Technology Accelerators” in Jim Collins’ Good to Great. By no stretch of the imagination does everyone in an organization need to understand how a technology works, but organizations that are good with technology are able to quickly and consistently create new ways of applying technology to opportunities and problems. This category is a cultural issue. Technology-enabled solutions are valued and people are rewarded by seeing their ideas come to fruition. Today’s IT Leader works to shape a culture of innovation.
Category Two, the information technology in use, speaks to the actual systems in play in the organization. Every organization has a set of applications to process transactions and/or support decision-making. Various systems do these tasks with varying degrees of success. IT Leaders must partner with the business unit to understand benefits and drawbacks of its systems, help business units wade through a range of options, and take action to bring improvement. IT Leaders help organizations move from technology evaluation to technology solution to get the right technology in use in the organization.
The third category, the workings of the MIS Department, relates to MIS Operations issues that have traditionally fit easily into an IT Leader’s job description. These are the things that a CIO is ultimately responsible and accountable for, including the MIS staffing model, IT vendor relationships, data protection, disaster planning, HIPPA and other appropriate regulatory compliance, application administration, network support, Help Desk break/fix support, etc. These issues are very critical to success. You might choose the right things to do by being great at categories one and two, but poorly functioning MIS Operations can leave you muddling through doing them.
Effective IT leaders help shape the organizational culture, move the business from opportunity to technology solution with appropriate vigor, and ensure MIS Departmental functions are efficient. Delineating the issues faced into the three categories outlined here can assist an IT Leader when finding ways to move the organization forward.

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